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Norman Lamb: Doh!

By Angela Harbutt

 

Only a short while ago Norman Lamb MP was one of our best. He stood up, and spoke out, on principle against needless government intrusion. A true poster boy for all those liberals amongst us who object to the nanny state telling adults how to live our lives.

Back in 2008, when the the Labour government suggested hiding cigarettes behind shutters in shops, Norman was one of the first to speak out. As Shadow Health Minister he rightly stated :

“This is the nanny state going too far.”

And he didn’t stop there. He also said

“This will hit small businesses with added costs while there is no clear evidence that it will actually reduce the number of young people smoking.”

And indeed he said this:

“The Government is obsessed with headline-grabbing gimmicks instead of tackling the real problems. Buying tobacco for children must be made a criminal offence. Ministers also need to clamp down on the shockingly high amount of tobacco that is smuggled illegally into this country.”

Where is that man we wonder? Roll on to 2013 and, when in a position to actually have an impact on the excesses of the nanny state, low and behold he pops up in the Guardian saying:

“As a liberal I would always defend someone’s right to smoke, if that’s what they choose to do. But, given we’re dealing here with a product that kills between 80,000 and 100,000 people a year, I think it’s legitimate for government to seek to control the marketing of that deadly product…”

 

Well, Norman, nothing has changed since 2008. Cigarettes are bad for you. Sure. But no more than they were in 2008, when you were against the display ban. Adults should be treated as adults – even when you are in power.

If ever there was a policy that was nothing more than a “headline-grabbing gimmick” (your words), banning coloured boxes must surely be it? What happened to your concern about the impact of policy gimmicks on small businesses? And why choose this point to ignore the 500,000 voters who registered their opposition to this policy during the consultation? Back in 2008 your concern was rightly focused on the black-market and proxy purchasing. Why, when in power, choose to support a policy that will make it actually easier and cheaper for organised crime to counterfeit cigarettes? You were against the tobacco display ban – but it was introduced anyway – why not at least wait to measure the effectiveness of that policy (and the ban on tobacco vending machines) before arguing for yet more legislation?

Picture courtesy of "Hands Off Our Packs"

Picture courtesy of “Hands Off Our Packs”

You say that:

“I think it would be a legacy for this government to have legislated on something which would be a landmark public health reform and to be out there in front in Europe.”

Great. If that’s the case [or indeed if it is, as it seems, just the usual politician's desire to be "seen" to be doing something]  here are a few policies that may assist you in leaving a health legacy you can actually be proud of.

 

1. Clear the path for e-cigarettes. This revolution is leaving you behind. Hundreds of thousands are electing to choose this product – yet you waste your time on ruling what colour of boxes you think adults should look at – a campaign gimmick that is untried, untested and unwanted. If you want to be “out there in front of Europe” then let’s get as many e-cigarettes out there as possible. If you hadn’t noticed – they are working – unlike the tired, unimaginative and dangerous “more of the same” policies coming from those in tobacco control. Note that Chris Davies [Libdem] MEP seems to be way ahead of you [see "Politics at it should be done"]

2. Introduce a ban on proxy purchasing (your idea from 2008). Smoking is an adult pursuit. If your concern is children, then make it illegal to purchase cigarettes on behalf of minors.

3. And while you are at it, increase the penalties on those caught selling cigarettes to kids.

4. Act on counterfeiting. Fake cigarettes sell at half the price of UK duty paid cigarettes. Quite attractive to cash strapped youngsters don’t you think? They are sold to minors at school gates, car book sales and markets. They don’t ask for ID, and they don’t care who they sell to. Why not introduce some serious penalties for smuggling and counterfeiting?

That is just four for starters – and they really do start to look like a liberal legacy we can all be proud of.

PS: With great relief we note that education minister, David Laws, and the Home Office minister, Jeremy Browne are reported to remain firmly against this policy.

Seen elsewhere on this topic: “Norman Lamb:Perfect Example of the Genre” and “Open Minded?

Angela Harbutt is currently campaigning against the introduction of plain packaging of tobacco.

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Lesson 101. THIS is how you make an apology

By Angela Harbutt
September 21st, 2012 at 10:00 am | No Comments | Posted in Liberal Democrats

Dear Nick

This is how to make an apology :

Stephen Nolan interview with Norman Lamb 24th October 2010. You see ? Timely, honest and clear.

Stephen Nolan: “You must be very embarrassed by the promise you gave to every single person Norman”

Norman Lamb:  “I am embarrassed by that pledge and I wish that I had not signed it …I take this very seriously. I hate the situation that I am personally am in. I find it a genuine moral dilemma. I want to try and do the right thing…”

“… And look everyone of us , in politics or any other walk of life , make mistakes. I have made a mistake on this and I’m very open and candid about it . I want people to be able to trust what I do and what I say. But in the circumstances I am in, I’ve got to try and make the right decision…”

“…Looking to the future ensuring that universities get proper funding  and that we don’t disadvantage children from poorer backgrounds it seems to me that what is on offer if it can be improved in a more progressive direction is worth supporting”

“I am sorry. I am sorry I signed it. It is as simple as that. Perhaps politicians should say that more often. I am saying it very openly to you”

Job done.

 You can listen to the full 4 minute interview here.

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What do we want “LAWS”.. When do we want him “NOW”

By Angela Harbutt
February 4th, 2012 at 9:52 pm | 11 Comments | Posted in Liberal Democrats

Lib Dems overwhelming want David Laws back in the mix – big time. A Lib Dem Voice survey of members , released today, suggests that an overwhelming  72% of Lib Dem members in the LDV sample want to see David Laws return to a ministerial post in the Coalition government, with most wanting to see him return to the cabinet.

There are some Lib Dems who think that he is better placed to stay behind the scenes and mastermind the next election strategy. I have some sympathy with that. We do need someone who knows what they are doing, this time around, running that. But what we need, just  as importantly right now, is to be able to show we are competent in government.With ideas that work and a positive message for what we can achieve rather than prevent. Getting Ed Davey (who has been phenomenal in  Business)  into the Climate job and  Norman Lamb (who has spent too much time behind the scenes) to take up Ed’s post are both excellent moves. But if there was the chance of adding David Laws to the line up who wouldn’t think that was a pretty impressive team to field in the all-important run up to the next general election.

If David Cameron is serious about this partnership – and if Nick Clegg really does have the balls to do what’s necessary – then it surely can’t be long before David Laws is off the subs bench and back in the game?

UPDATE – Sunday Telegraph reporting that Laws may be in for a big job… GET IN.

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Introducing the next leader of the Liberal Democrats : Norman Lamb

By admin
April 11th, 2011 at 7:15 am | 9 Comments | Posted in coalition, Liberal Democrats

 There’s not a vacancy, of course.

And nobody’s talking about a vacancy.

We’re all backing Nick. Some of us still dust down the “I agree with Nick” banners, T-shirts and badges. They bring a tear to the eye. They remind us of those dreamy days when, with just a couple of weeks to go to polling day, the LibDems were at over 30% in a cluster of opinion polls.

Much has changed since then, of course. If a week’s a long time in politics, a year is, in rough terms, about 52 times as long.

But, most likely, if you had to put your house on it, you’d probably shove it on Nick Clegg leading the party into the next election. And if you knew he wasn’t going to – and have to bet your mortgage on someone else – you’d probably have to edge towards Chris Huhne or Tim Farron as his likely successor.

Every loyalist insists in public, of course, that such tittle tattle is just the media making mischief.  But – in our heart of hearts – we know that’s totally disingenuous.

Bar room gossip at party conferences quite often turns to the topic of who the next party leader might be. It’s not plotting. It’s just idle speculation. But that doesn’t make it illegitimate or poisonous.

Everyone involved in politics is interested in how things might “pan out” and telling Jeremy Paxman that you “don’t answer hypothetical questions” is just a cop out. Virtually everything we think about and discuss is based on hypothetical questions.

So, consider this.

Imagine – for whatever reason – that Nick Clegg doesn’t continue as party leader for the next decade. You don’t need the imagination of an Arthur C. Clarke or a J. R. R. Tolkien to see how this might happen. Maybe he just gets cheesed off with the whole thing. Maybe there is some enormous internal party revolt at some stage. Maybe there is some recalibration of the way the Coalition operates. There’s a zillion ways it could happen, even though, on balance, it probably won’t.

Step forward Norman Lamb. He is an almost complete unknown outside of the LibDems. But then so was Nick until the first TV debate.

Crucially, he’s fairly independent. He’s not put all his chips on the Coalition succeeding, which many other possible leadership candidates have had to (partly because, of course, he was shamefully overlooked for ministerial office when the Coalition was formed).

He’s also essentially a party loyalist, but with Orange Book and mildly eurosceptic tendencies.

His television profile is rising. He’s an obvious choice for party-orientated media (by-elections etc) and also strong on his former health portfolio. Yesterday, he broke cover to make a splash on his concerns over the Lansley NHS reforms. Not in the terms of some tedious conservative Luddite, but for fear they hadn’t been fully thought through.

About a year ago, here on this very blog,  Norman was described as a media superstar.  Objectively he is not that – not yet. He’s occasionally a bit defensive and slightly hesitant. But he does have the common touch and doesn’t talk in jargon. Additionally, I’m not sure that “macho” politicians – displaying Ed Balls-style certainty in the face of all credible evidence to the contrary – are very popular anywhere any more.

He also has a few other things going for him. Typically, LibDems seems to vote for more establishment middle-of-the-road candidates rather than firebrand radicals. Despite their many strengths, Simon Hughes and Chris Huhne have now both lost two leadership elections from “the left”. To run for a third time for the party leadership surely puts one in the “Ken Clarke” position – widely considered charming, but unlikely to ever actually inherit the crown.

The lefty-leaning, charismatic, activist-adored and media savvy Tim Farron, only narrowly defeated the more establishment Susan Kramer for the party’s Presidency last year despite running an enormously more impressive campaign.

Norman also has a pretty hardened and impressive political CV – both at the coal face of Westminster and at the grassroots level. He had to deal with the growing disquiet over Charles Kennedy’s difficulties with alcohol (having been his PPS) – and was one of the very first MPs to publicly call for Charles to quit. He also has the battle scars of the frustrating Ming Campbell period, serving as his chief of staff in troubled times.

At local electoral level, Lamb’s achievements are staggering. He first contested North Norfolk – a rock solid Tory seat with a 10,000 majority in 1992. He cut this to around 1,000 in 1997 and just won it with a majority of 483 in 2001. In 2005, he saw off Tory blogger Iain Dale and increased the LibDem majority by over 2,000%. He increased his majority again in 2010 to an eye-watering 11,626.

If the shift in votes which have occurred in Norman Lamb’s seat since 1992 had been replicated across the country last May, the national vote share in the 2010 General Election would have been LibDem 46% Conservative 20% Labour 17%.

He may need simply to find a little more self-confidence and a bit more steel. And no doubt his surname gives rise to a whole string of dismissive newspaper headlines and dispatch box jibes. But the next time you’re speculating about who might lead the Liberal Democrats next, give Norman Lamb serious consideration.

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Oldham – thoughts for Lib Dems

By Angela Harbutt
January 15th, 2011 at 9:01 pm | 2 Comments | Posted in Liberal Democrats

One serious omission from my previous post on Oldham. Norman Lamb (in the studio) and Tim Farron (at the Count) both gave stellar performances for the Lib Dems on the night (on the BBC’s by election programme).

Norman has long been a trusted friend of Lib Dem leaders and has a style and personality that makes him easily likeable. That possibly makes it all to easy to forget just how effective he really is in combative situations. I am sure he has many and important tasks within the Coalition – but why he is not given a more prominent role facing the public? He is easily one of the most effective advocates the Coalition has. Get this man out there. More. Now.

Tim Farron is likewise a class act. We have praised him on several occassions on this blog – his quality shines out- and whilst our support ultimately went to Susan during the election of President, I for one think that few, if any, could have done  a better job than Tim on the night. If he continues in this vein, and uses his many skills to support Nick and the party in coalition, then he will have my support all day long. Great job.

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